VOX POPULI: 'Dogeza' comeback signifies an edgy public mind

October 15, 2013

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.

When I hear the word “dogeza,” scenes from Japanese period dramas come to mind. It is the act of getting down on one’s hands and knees as a gesture of apology or obeisance. Did people actually do that in the old days?

In “Tokugawa Seiseiroku,” an illustrated guide to ceremonies and customs of the Tokugawa Shogunate, a picture shows people simply squatting alongside the street as a procession of the Kii Tokugawa family parade through a town. The book states that ordinary people were required to crouch by the roadside.

Nowadays, we have more chances to see people performing dogeza. In the modern version, they do more than crouching. In many cases, they fall to their knees like in samurai dramas. Such scenes appeared frequently in the hit television drama “Hanzawa Naoki” and the movie “Shazai no Osama” (King of apologies), which is currently showing. But it’s not only happening on television and in movies. Last week, the television documentary program “Close-up Gendai” aired by Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) focused on “a deluge of dogeza.”

Top managers of scandal-hit companies get down on their knees and bow. Angry customers demand shop attendants and railway station employees to show an attitude of “sincerity.” Superiors force their subordinates to make humiliating gestures. Various kinds of dogeza are spreading in everyday life in Japan. In some cases, such images have been posted on the Internet.

This column also dealt with the subject of dogeza 23 years ago. The writer stated that “it has become rare to see dogeza these days except in election campaigns.” How times have changed. Could it be that with the economy in a slump and society turning cold and unfriendly, the public mind is also getting edgy?

Fortunately, I have never actually witnessed the act, but seeing scenes of dogeza in the news makes me feel uncomfortable. Two years ago, when The Asahi Shimbun’s supplement “be” asked readers what they thought of dogeza, 80 percent said they had negative feelings about it. They said the gesture gave the impression of “putting on an act,” “deceit” and “subservience.”

“(My boyfriend) got down on his knees and asked me to marry him. I wasn’t happy at all,” one woman answered. It seems better to leave exaggerated gestures to characters in dramas.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 14

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.
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Senior officials of Tokyo Electric Power Co. perform "dogeza" at a gymnasium in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, on March 31, 2011, expressing their apology to the evacuees from the area affected by the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Senior officials of Tokyo Electric Power Co. perform "dogeza" at a gymnasium in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, on March 31, 2011, expressing their apology to the evacuees from the area affected by the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • Senior officials of Tokyo Electric Power Co. perform "dogeza" at a gymnasium in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, on March 31, 2011, expressing their apology to the evacuees from the area affected by the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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